Between Here & Home: We are stardust, we are golden

COMES a time, toward the end of every winter, when I run a finger across the surface of my writing desk and it carves a deep line through the dust like the parting of the red sea.

They say the only two things we can be certain of in this life are death and taxes. 

I’d like to add dust to the list.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 

We’re born of dust, we return to dust, and ironically spend a large portion of our lives moving it from one place to another. 

Wipe the dust from something and you know with certainty it will be replaced by more dust. Entropy always wins.

Build a house, fill it with “stuff”, and just wait for the dust. 

It creeps under doors, slips through the gaps in the flywire, clings to your boots and clothes – always finds a way in.

For the clean freak it’s a constant, lurking enemy. 

For asthmatics it’s the thing that has them reaching for their puffer. 

For the poet, a dust mote in the morning sunlight is a ponderous joy. 

For Carl Sagan it was the ultimate metaphor for existence – “we are but a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam, “ he wrote in Pale Blue Dot.

When I run my finger across my desk, I know it should make me reach for a cloth. 

Instead I’m reminded that it takes three centuries for a one-foot layer of dust to accumulate. 

The entirety of the Roman Empire is buried nine feet underground – that is, under nine feet of tightly compacted dust. Perspective, eh.

What has become a household nuisance is actually one of nature’s most humbling phenomena – the earth’s most reliable preserver.

Pablo Picasso liked his studio to be layered with dust, and forbade anyone to clean it. 

He even wore grey suits as a way to harmoniously coexist.

“I always counted on the protection of dust,” he said. “It was my ally.”

The modern media likes to scare us with the dangers of dust – microscopic images of mites and bacteria, as fearsome as anything from Jurassic Park – reminding us we share our beds with 10 million of them at a time.

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” TS Elliot wrote. 

But fearing dust is a bit like fearing water or air. 

It’s the stuff we’re made of.

That beautiful smudge of the Milky Way across the night sky – that’s dust. 

In it are all the atoms, the elements, the chemicals that made all of this. 

Everything and everyone we love began in a cloud of dust.

We can endure the useless struggle to move dust from inside to outside – like Sisyphus and his stone – or we can love the fact that at least once every day a piece of space dust – a piece of everything – settles on our head.

I can’t think of anything more beautiful.


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